Reggae Fate

I started to notice something I named Reggae Fate in 2013. By that time, my radio show, U DUB, had really begun to blast off. I went from knowing a little bit about reggae to a lot; mainly due to the weekly exploring of new (well, old) artists to add to my growing repertoire and CD collection. I wanted to expand my knowledge of reggae to preserve the true essence of the genre, the roots, on the airwaves for others to hear and be inspired from.

I began hosting U DUB in 2010 on WSUM (thank you Facebook Memories for pointing that out!). Seven years so far. What a trip when I think about it. The first couple years of the show were merely me putting my toes in the water. I played a lot of King Tubby, Barrington Levy, Burning Spear, Peter Tosh, Eek-a-Mouse…the classics. But something started to happen that made the show start picking up speed. I started to do more with it.

I started meeting the most amazing people through this music. They were coming right to me. It first started when I decided to print off this flyer I made for my radio show with my printer at home — I could fit two of them on one sheet, and I used all the rest of my printer’s ink. I cut out the two flyers and brought them to Milwaukee with me, where I was going out for my friend’s birthday. I thought, maybe I’ll meet someone who wants to know about my reggae show. I wanted to turn things up a notch and start connecting to more people about it.

I was at this totally random bar, wearing heels that were both too high and too big for my feet. I saw these two rasta-looking guys at the bar — one of them had a red, yellow and green patch on the arm of his jacket, and they both had dreads. I thought, I didn’t mean to profile anyone, but these guys definitely liked reggae and would be the recipients of my two flyers. I shuffled over to talk.

Turns out they were actually part of a Milwaukee-based reggae soundsystem. One of them was named Ras Adam. I told him I couldn’t believe that I had decided to print out these two flyers, and then give them to these two guys who were at the same random bar as I was, who ended up being the exact people I should give them to. He said they have a word for that: Jah Work.

Back in Madison, this local band called Nama Rupa (rest in peace) contacted me about their new album that had recently won a Madison Area Music Award (a.k.a. MAMA Award). Their band member Jason was a guest on my show — we talked reggae, and had a nice time — and then afterwards I asked him if the whole band would like to play a set in the studio during my show. They said yes, and not too long afterwards they were making jaws drop as people tuned in and stopped by to figure out who this amazing band was that was jamming live on the airwaves during my show.

Sometimes it takes something crazy to happen for you to realize just how precious life is. This happened to me in 2013, that infamous third year of U DUB, when a coworker and friend of mine, Henry, a fellow DJ at WSUM, suddenly died from meningitis. He must have been 21 years old tops. It was heartbreaking. And so sudden. I remember going home to my apartment after learning the news at work. Before I left the office, I called my best friend, who also worked with us, and asked her to meet me in the hallway. I had to tell her. It was weird, I remember the surreal feeling as the words came out of my mouth and the expression on her face changed. She said she would finish her work and then leave. I said I would leave right away, but I cried in the bathroom first. I made it home, smoked a bowl, and was puzzled and amazed by this crazy thing called life, and death, which had taken someone so full of light whom everyone loved. I vowed to start living every day to its fullest, and living like my life could be over at any moment — not a morbid way, but an inspiring one.

So with this new sense of purpose, I started living this different way where I didn’t hold back. I was online and saw a show poster for Reggae on the Rocks at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado. It had Burning Spear on it, one of my all-time original favorites. I freaked out. I wanted to go and see him. I lived paycheck to paycheck (still do, actually) — so flying somewhere cool for a show was something I had never done before. But I quickly realized that I was looking at the old lineup from 2012. Damn. Then I looked at the 2013 lineup, and — wait a second — it was right up my alley: Inner Circle, Yellowman, Matisyahu, Collie Buddz, Rebelution. Reggae bands like that didn’t come to Madison very often, and I wanted to turn my reggae life up a notch. I had to go. I had heard tales of Red Rocks that sounded magical, especially for a Wisconsin gal like me who was always dreaming of travels afar.

It was because my friend had passed, and Reggae on the Rocks had crossed my radar, that I realized, why wait? I’m alive right now, but who knows how long I will be here. My life is for living and making memories. I literally spent every last dollar in my bank account getting out there, a risky move I had never taken before.

I was standing high up at Red Rocks Amphitheater, looking at the majestic red earth formations surrounding me, the green mountains, the blue-grey sky, lightning striking over a city far in the distance, and my friend beside me. Inner Circle started playing the song “No Woman No Cry”. A strong wind was blowing against me, and the musical vibrations and elements were all coming together so perfectly. I started to cry, thinking, “Man, Henry would think this is so cool that I made it out here”.

Reggae on the Rocks — August 24th, 2013. Photo cred: Tania Fonseca

Reggae on the Rocks — August 24th, 2013. Photo cred: Tania Fonseca

A physical body is just one tiny part of existence. My friend inspired me to go on that trip, and that moment at Red Rocks proved to me that someone is alive if they are continually making an impact on others. He was there right then.

I certainly don’t know what happens after life in the human body, but I do know that if your life inspires others who are still here, and if you make a positive impact with your physical existence, you will always be alive in the most incredible way, through others.

From that moment, I was changed. I realized I could make anything happen for myself. I actually made it to Reggae on the Rocks, and I started to see how things related to reggae music had this way of working out for me.

With this new sense of living so boldly, I returned to Madison and told a guy who I had a crush on for years to stop wasting all this precious time and get with me. And he did. That’s a longer story for another day.

Around that same time, I was on Facebook and saw a post from Burning Spear saying he was playing a free show in Brooklyn, NYC. NYC! I had always wanted to go there. And Burning Spear! One of my original favorites, a top musical inspiration of mine ever since I started tapping into this wonderful genre. I had my taste of Colorado, and I was hungry for more traveling and living life. I needed to be at this show.

I picked up extra bartending shifts. As soon as I had enough money, I bought my plane ticket to NYC. I didn’t know where I would be staying, and I didn’t care. I just had to get there, and I knew everything would work out. This was Burning Spear. This was my calling. The next reggae adventure.

My younger sister heard I was going to NYC and called me to talk about her experience. I think she was a little scared that I was going out there with no solid plans of where to stay, so she hooked me up with her friend Meg, an NYU student who was living in Brooklyn. I’m so grateful for that connect, because the trip wouldn’t have really been what it was if it had not been for Meg. She was wonderful and welcoming. And super funny.

I spent the first couple days exploring Manhattan, and I also saw Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad play. I was warming up for Burning Spear and still couldn’t believe I was out there on the east coast, about to see him play a free show.

The day of the show, I went on the venue’s website to make sure I was on track to arrive at the right time to get a spot in the front, a place I always have to be. The show was at a new cultural arts center in Brooklyn, and Burning Spear was kicking off their opening run of events. On the website, it said doors opened around 7pm and people should bring their tickets.

What? Tickets? I thought it was a free show! I was certainly on the broke side of life, but if I had to buy a ticket, then fine. However…then I read that tickets were sold out! What? How can a free show be sold out? Apparently people needed to line up a few days before the show to claim their free ticket to this event. My heart dropped. Sold out. I gathered my strength and knew it was time to do what I do best — connect with people and make the wheels turn.

I called the venue. The person on the phone apologized and told me all the tickets had been claimed. I told them my story — how I had come there all the way from Madison for this show, using money that I had worked so hard to save — I had a reggae radio show on the UW-Madison station, and I loved Burning Spear. I was crying. They said sorry, they were at full capacity and there was nothing they could do. They took down my name and number, I think to comfort me, and said they’d contact me if anything changed.

Then I scoured the venue’s website to find any and all contact information for other people who worked there. I sent a mass email to them all, telling them my story and saying I’d stand in the very back if they let me in. The sound booth. Anywhere. I can squeeze.

I also took a bus to the venue in the afternoon, thinking that maybe seeing me in person might help sway these people, so they could see my heartfelt intent to see Burning Spear. Upon arrival, I told them his music meant so much to me. I would never get the chance to see him in Madison. I came to NYC for this show! I was crying again — they gave me some coffee. They also took my name and number on a post-it note to comfort me again. They said if I stood in the hallway of the venue during the show, at least I’d be able to hear Burning Spear.

I went back to Meg’s warehouse apartment with tears in my eyes. But I had this feeling, like the seed had been planted and this had to work out. I came here for Burning Spear and put all my energy into getting there.

A few hours later I received a phone call from a number my phone didn’t recognize. It was a lady from the venue. She was calling to say she got my email, and well — everyone got my email — and she was calling on their behalf. She said she was also a UW-Madison grad, and she wanted to help a badger out. I immediately could tell this was turning around. I started crying again. But happy tears this time. She told me she would do a final count of all the musicians at the show to make sure all was set capacity-wise, and if there was space for any more people then I’ll be the first one they’d let in.

I started to feel relieved for the first time that day, even though this plan was not set in stone. I couldn’t stop thanking this wonderful woman, and I’m pretty sure I was gushing way too much because she had to end the phone call eventually, telling me to arrive early so she could find me at the venue.

Oh I arrived early all right. I was ready for Burning Spear. There was this other guy who was holding out for a ticket, standing in the hallway with me. I told him about my story, including my radio show, my trip to Red Rocks, and now this. I told him how reggae-related things were really working out for me lately.

Then this woman was walking towards me with an envelope with my name on it, and she asked, “Are you Kayla?”. I immediately started crying again, in a happy way this time, and I gave her a huge hug. She held out the envelope with my ticket, and after I took it, she lovingly rubbed my arms and said, “Now you’re gonna make me cry!”. I told her I was so thankful, and this music meant so much to me, and this was was one of the most meaningful things of my entire life. I thanked her again and again. She told me to pay it forward. I told her absolutely.

Not only was I in the front for Burning Spear, but I got the setlist. It was an incredible, intimate show. Years later, Burning Spear posted this video clip from the show on Facebook — I started watching it, joking to myself about maybe being able to see myself in it — and sure enough, I could! You can see me in a trance, dancing from side to side like this little white bespectacled girl from Wisconsin who had found the epicenter of roots reggae. And it was wonderful.

By that time I saw Burning Spear in 2013, I had already started collecting a little bit of vinyl. It was a hard thing for me to start tapping into, because my favorite style of reggae is roots. Those records are few and far between, and they’re expensive, unless you’re buying a reprint of something. I think at that time I had already collected an old copy of Burning Spear’s Man in the Hills and a reprint of Marcus Garvey. I was on the lookout for Rocking Time, one of his earliest recordings. Living on such a small budget, I had not yet claimed this album I desired or found it at any local record shops.

I had a couple days left in NYC after the Burning Spear show. I decided to wander around the next day and get coffee. At this cafe, I browsed the local newspaper stands and flyers that were promoting various events. I saw a flyer for a vinyl flea market in Brooklyn — and it was happening the very next day, the last day of my trip! I had to go.

At the flea market, I quickly found this tent with a ton of old reggae records — a lot of records from Penthouse, Heartbeat, and random compilations. And behold, there it was — “Rocking Time” — an old copy. It was torn on all the edges, and the faded blue cover showed a photo of Winston Rodney on a beach. This was it. I was amazed: How lucky that I saw Burning Spear in Brooklyn and then and found this old record of his right afterwards that I had been looking for for so long.

The record was priced at fifty dollars. Yikes. I had spent the last of my money on this trip, and was barely scraping by to keep my vacation and drinks flowing along. There were other records I wanted too — about ten of them total.

There was a guy working there, and while I was shopping I told him that I was a radio DJ on the UW-Madison student station. I had come out there for Burning Spear’s show and almost didn’t make it in. And here is this copy of his album, Rocking Time, that I wanted so badly.

Turns out, this guy was once a radio DJ on a college station too, and he had a reggae show! What are the odds?He actually spent years working for Heartbeat records and spent time with countless legends. He gave me all the records in my arms for fifty dollars, and his business card. He liked my story and identified with me, and we found it so coincidental to have met that day. More of this reggae-related luck, this synchronicity, flowing towards me and through me.

Meg was great to hang out with in Brooklyn. She was originally from Wisconsin too, which is how my sister knew her. She was in class most of the time that I was there, so I could only text her the day of the Burning Spear show to vent about my dilemma of almost not getting in. While I was trying to take my mind off of things the day of the show (while still thinking I may not get in), I decided to go to this park by NYU and walk around. I met this woman named Nancy who was sitting on a bench selling conversations for a dollar. I was only going to take a picture of her sign and continue walking, but I needed to blow off some steam from an emotional morning, so I put a dollar in her basket and sat down to talk.

She had a sunhat with flowers on it, and a long dress. She was really great to talk to. In fact, she graduated from UW-Madison! What a small world. On a sidenote, I started thinking: Great, I’m in debt up to my eyeballs from college, and here is this woman who graduated from the same place as me, selling conversations for a dollar on a bench in a park. I thought my future looked interesting for sure.

I remembered her name was Nancy because of Sister Nancy, the reggae singer. The last day of my trip, I was recounting my adventures to Meg at her house. I told her that there was this thing, this luck, this energy, this synchronicity related to me and reggae. It was something that assured me I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I called it Reggae Fate. By seeing the way things had worked out for me, Meg saw it too.

As I told her about the little bonus of meeting fellow UW-grad Nancy in the park, who I called Sister Nancy, I searched for the song “Bam Bam” on Meg’s YouTube so she could hear the Sister Nancy I was referring to. It’s an infectious song, simply one of the best, especially for a lady reggae DJ like me. “I never trouble no one / I’m a lady I’m not a man / M.C. is my ambition / I come fi nice up Jamaican”.

Meg loved the song. We hugged for what seemed like minutes before I left, feeling that bittersweet feeling of meeting such a fantastic new friend that you had to leave too soon.

My plane landed back in Madison and my head was in the clouds. Once again my realization was confirmed, that I could manifest anything if I put my mind to it, and that I was so happy to have found this music and all the people it’s brought me to. And this feeling was so real, everything in my life was all coming together.

I received a message from Meg right after returning home. She said she went to a coffee shop to do some homework, and all of a sudden, the song “Bam Bam” started playing through the cafe’s speakers. She had only heard it for the first time from me earlier that day! In addition to that, a friend of hers randomly posted the song on her Facebook wall. I’m not even kidding.

Meg was then a firm believer in Reggae Fate. She couldn’t wait to tell me what had happened, and what it was. It was Reggae Fate! Reggae Fate! It had been unearthed and now had a name.

If you listen to my radio show that aired the week I returned from NYC, you’ll hear me gushing about this newfound thing called Reggae Fate that was happening to me. It was something that pointed to the fact that I’m right where I’m supposed to be, hosting this radio show and playing this music. I’m right where I’m supposed to be, so everything is working out. Flowing. Synchronizing.

1st time winning DJ of the Year — 2013 Madison Area Music Awards — and the first time a woman won this award!

1st time winning DJ of the Year — 2013 Madison Area Music Awards — and the first time a woman won this award!

I could give you many examples of Reggae Fate. Everything from lyrics in songs matching my thoughts or words during the first time I hear them being played, to me winning four of my own MAMA Awards for DJ of the Year in Madison, to Ras Adam, the guy I gave my little flyer to in Milwaukee, offering me the opportunity to interview Ziggy Marley years later.

You may be wondering why I’ve gone into such depth about loosely connected things, but I wanted to expose the true nature of Reggae Fate. It’s little, and sometimes big signs that all fit together. It’s synchronicities all pertaining to reggae music and your place in it. It’s a mind-blowing realization.

Reggae Fate is not something you can ask for ahead of time. I once used the term in front of someone, and now she is throwing it around social media and using it wrongly. She is asking for Reggae Fate and posting about it. Like, “C’mon Reggae Fate, I hope I can make it to this show!!”. And now some of her friends are throwing the term around too and asking people to “send them Reggae Fate”.

Reggae Fate isn’t something you can ask for. In fact, I think it’s blasphemous to do that. It’s something that only reveals itself to you in the moment. It’s a sign from the universe that shows you’re right where you’re supposed to be, when you’re doing the work you’re meant to be doing — Jah Work. For you, when you hopefully receive signs you’re doing what your life’s purpose may be, the word will be something different, specific to that purpose. I believe a purpose in my life is to preserve roots reggae and be an instrument for it, and by staying on this path, Reggae Fate is something that will continue to reveal itself.